Grand County Rambler
July 29, 2016
Last weekend, July 22 through 24, saw temperatures climb into the mid-90s in the Denver Metro area.
The warm spell spurred a temporary mass migration to the high country as folks all along the Front Range headed for the Rockies to escape the heat. Middle Park was inundated with visitors while local law enforcement authorities reported the Grand Lake area saw significant activity.
Traffic leaving the valley was backed up last Sunday with a line of vehicles snaking down US Highway 40 from Berthoud Pass all the way to the Tabernash area. Temperatures are once again forecasted to climb into the mid-90s this weekend in the Denver area and Grand County can likely expect another busy bout of visitors crowding into our popular recreation areas.
If you're looking to check out the high country this weekend but don't want to spend your time on the trail in a queue consider checking out some of Grand County's less frequented trails and wilderness areas.
Just a short ways northeast of Tabernash are a series of rolling mountain hills covered in lodgepole pines with small stands of aspen trees. My family calls the area the Tabernash Hills. Calling the regional slopes "hills" is somewhat of a misnomer though as the modest landscape climbs abruptly east towards the high craggy peaks of the continental divide.
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Within this swath of land, resting between US 40 and the divide and between the Three Lakes region and the Fraser Valley, are a series of Forest Service roads and hiking trails. A significant portion of the area, though not all of it, is located within the Arapaho National Recreation Area (ANRA), including the very popular Meadow Creek Reservoir.
The area provides easy access from the communities of Fraser and Winter Park and can become thick with recreators in certain spots at certain times of year. But for those who know where to go, or where to look, the region offers many options for outdoor adventures without much in terms of crowds.
There are several quality trails in the area as well as some notable sights worth exploring. A modest drive up Strawberry Road will take visitors to the Fraser River Canyon Trailhead. From the trailhead hikers will traverse a short sparsely wooded section of forest before descending into the valley proper. After reaching the banks of the Fraser folks can explore the river canyon north towards the Granby area. Impromptu trails run along the banks of the river allowing travel for a distance. Keep your eyes peeled for fly fishermen.
A ways up the Forest Service road that leads to Meadow Creek Reservoir is a parking pull-off for the trailhead leading to the High Lonesome Hut, a backcountry accommodation that sees use throughout the year. The trail, called Strawberry Trail, quickly drops into a local valley and runs adjacent Meadow Creek. For the truly adventurous the trail can be taken well past the High Lonesome Hut and on to Granby Reservoir.
If you keep driving towards Meadow Creek Reservoir you will eventually come across another Forest Service Road cutting back to the southeast. This road will take you on a meandering route through the forest to Hurd Creek. From Hurd Creek you can take the Hurd Creek Trail north towards the divide or take a few moments to check out the beautiful Hurd Creek rock climbing area, which offers spectacular views of the Fraser Valley far below. To find the climbing area look for a trail cutting west through the forest with a small log bridge across Hurd Creek.
To reach the Tabernash Hills area from Fraser take US 40 west to the turnoff to Devil's Thumb Ranch on Grand County Road 83. Follow CR 83 until you reach the first Y in the road and turn left onto Country Road 84. You will follow CR 84, a relatively well-maintained dirt road, for a short distance before reaching the turnoff for Strawberry Road and the Fraser River Canyon trailhead. To reach the Canyon trailhead continue on Strawberry Road for several miles, passing through sections of private property, before reaching a small parking area by the trailhead sign.
To reach the High Lonesome Hut Trailhead continue up CR 84, also Forest Service Road 129, for several miles. The trailhead is marked by a large sign and is a short distance north of the first two switchbacks on CR 84.
To reach the Hurd Creek Trailhead continue up CR 84, past the sign demarking the end-of-winter-maintenance, to the last switchback before reaching the ANRA pay kiosk. Turn right onto Forest Service Road 128 at the switchback.
Keep your eyes peeled for the turn, it is easy to miss entirely or mistake for a private driveway. Please use caution while in the area though as there are a large number of private cabins and properties in the area. Follow Forest Service Road 128 to where it meets Hurd Creek Road and Water Board Road. Continue traveling east up the short spur road to the Hurd Creek Trailhead. The Hurd Creek rock climbing area is accessed from the same spur road.